Crossing the Rubicon
Julius Caesar was one of the most brilliant military strategists of the ancient world. This, in concert with his political ambitions, made him one of history’s most colorful characters. About 60 years before the birth of Jesus, he was appointed governor of Gaul (north of Italy). His military skills thrust him into considerable prominence, so much so that he became a threat to Rome. Eventually he was declared to be an “enemy of the state,” and ordered to disband his army. The Roman general, Pompey, was appointed to enforce the charge. This set the stage for a mighty confrontation.
In 49 B.C. Caesar was confronted with a major decision. Should he surrender, or should he march southward and engage Pompey? A crucial geographical point figured in his decision. A stream marked the boundary between Gaul and Italy, the Rubicon. To cross it with an army was a breach of Roman law—an act of open rebellion. Once he crossed, there would be no turning back. It became an irrevocable decision. Suetonius, a Roman historian, records that he approached the stream; after some hesitation, he issued the command, “Advance!” When on the southern side, he shouted, “The die is now cast.” Those words have echoed across more than twenty centuries, becoming proverbial for decisions, once made, that cannot be reversed without dire consequences; in some case, not at all.
It occurred to me some while back that there are a number of decisions, crucial decisions in life, which entail a “point of no return.” Sadly, many do not “think ahead” about consequences, and so plunge recklessly into situations that affect them dramatically—sometimes even eternally! Perhaps we could contemplate some of these matters.
Accountability and Sin
At some point in one’s life, after reaching the age of accountability, one makes the personal decision to transgress the law of God, hence, to sin (1 John 3:4). Likely almost no one remembers precisely when that was. Nonetheless it is the universal experience of Adam’s offspring. (Note: No one is “born” in sin; that idea is Catholicism and/or Calvinism, not biblical truth.) Once that accountability/sin point has been crossed, “the die has been cast”; henceforth forevermore, amid earth’s scenes, a person of sincere conscience will struggle with the sin problem.
One clear example of “Rubicon” action is the deliberate taking of human life. Once a person’s life is destroyed, he is deprived of everything he has—or ever will have, including all future opportunities, as far as earthly life is concerned. And there is no reversing that.
I once had a casual friend (not a Christian) who noticed one day that his wife was extremely agitated. When he pressed her for an explanation, she broke down in tears and told him that his best friend had raped her. Immediately he retrieved his shotgun from a closet and drove to his friend’s house. He rang the door bell and waited. When his buddy opened the door, he simply said: “You raped my wife,” and then discharged the weapon into his friend’s chest. Later, I visited him in jail, as he awaited trial. He conceded he had made a dreadful mistake, but there was no reversing it. He lost his family, and the last I knew, was still serving time in prison.
Suicide is a terrible tragedy in any family. For a mentally responsible person, it is self-murder. It has been my sad task over the years to conduct a funeral service for a number of suicide victims. I always wonder about the nature of the inner torment that led them to such drastic action.
Since the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was opened in 1937, more than 1,200 people have jumped into eternity from this spectacular site. Few have survived the 220 footplunge. One man who lived through the experience (but was severely mangled) recently was interviewed. One of his comments was: “I knew the moment I let go it was the biggest mistake of my life.”
Frequently we encounter people who are sorely depressed. As Christians we should attempt to give them support and encouragement in every way we are qualified to do. There is no help once the “Rubicon” is crossed.
It is not at all uncommon these days to meet young girls who have been sexually promiscuous, and the result is an unplanned pregnancy. It is regrettable that even some Christian parents and/or youth think abortion is a solution to this problem. It is not. Numerous women tell of the psychological torture they have endured for years because of a foolish decision they made—that cannot be turned back.
The “Rubicon syndrome” enters into the marriage covenant in several ways. Many young people today plunge into the marriage relationship with an almost glib-like disposition. A young lady fantasized her perception of a future marriage. In a very matter-of-fact fashion she spoke of finding a handsome, prosperous man, marrying, and having a couple of kids. She suggested that after a number of years, as they matured, they probably would tire of one another, get adivorce, and eventually, both find new companions.
She had utterly no understanding of the fact that marriage is a contract between man, woman, and their Creator—and God sets the rules!And what he “joins together” is not to be “put asunder.” Through a prophet Jehovah warned that he would “judge” those who “break wedlock” (Ezekiel 16:38). Young people need to understand that once they capriciously abandon their vows, divorce, and join themselves to adulterous partners, they have entered relationships in which they never can be right. It is a tragedy from which few ever will turn back.
Consider the husband (or wife) who begins an adulterous relationship with someone “at the office.” The transgressor informs his/her mate that he/she has “fallen in love” with someone else, and intends to abandon the marriage and live with a new paramour. The betrayed victim exercises his/her divine option, divorces the fornicator, and eventually marries a new companion (Matthew 19:9). What is the fate of the divorced fornicator? If he ever wants to be right with God again, the adulterer must abandon his illicit union and live celibate for the balance of his life. There are life-changing “Rubicon” situations that have dire consequences.
Permanent Rejection of Christ
Saul of Tarsus is clearly a case of a man who, for a while, rejected Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord. He viciously blasphemed and persecuted the Christian Way, seeking to destroy it (cf. Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13). It is possible that fury against the church of Christ was never so concentrated in one person as in Saul. But he became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and, through conversion (Acts 22:16), surrendered his life to God.
But the scriptures speak of the fate of those who repudiate the Holy Spirit’s evidence concerning the identity of the Lord, and permanently reject his sacrificial death as an atonement for their sins. To thrust aside this message of redemption with emphatic finality is to cross the “Rubicon” into a land of utter desolation, and ultimately, everlasting separation from God. The Savior referred to this action as “an eternal sin”(Mark 3:29), and the inspired writer of Hebrews depicted this wretched disposition as being beyond the possibility of any other mode of salvation (Hebrews 6:4-6). No future prophet will arise; there is no other Savior (Acts 4:12).
There is considerable attention in the New Testament to a condition called “hardness of heart.” The expression apparently is employed in a relative sense, and also in an absolute sense. In one of his post-resurrection appearances to the eleven disciples, Jesus rebuked them for their “hardness of heart” because they rejected the initial testimony of others who had seen the risen Lord (Mark 16:14). Their preconceptions regarding the promised Messiah caused them to resist the idea of a crucified Christ. Happily, this temporary “hardness” subsequently melted.
Other cases do not enjoy such a positive outcome. Paul wrote of certain Jews who “were hardened” with reference to the gospel of Christ (Romans 11:7, 25). A classic Illustration of such is found in the ministry of the Lord. John records: “But though he had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on him.” Then he added subsequently, “for this cause they could not believe,” pointing out that their stubborn rebellion fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy regarding their “hardened” hearts (John 12:37-40; emp. added).
Paul once described some of the ancient pagans as being so hardened of heart that they were “past feeling” any pangs of guilt (Ephesians 4:18-19). Elsewhere he wrote of those whose consciences were “seared” as with a hot iron, thus insensitive to feeling (1 Timothy 4:2). Can a person reach a point where, psychologically speaking, they simply cannot turn around? The scriptures seem to indicate such, though only God knows when that “Rubicon” has been crossed.
It is imperative, therefore, that a person guard his heart. In his letter to the saints at Philippi, Paul prayed that these folks might abound more and more in “all discernment” (Grk. aisthesis); the term has to do with “the power of moral discrimination and ethical judgment” (Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 1.188). This is why it is sinful to violate your conscience — even in matters that are not intrinsically evil (see Romans 14:23). One would thus do well to heed the instruction of Solomon, “Keep ypur heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Or, in the words of another writer, “Today if you shall hear his voice [via the Scriptures], harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7; cf. 3:12-13, 15).
There are those who labor under the illusion that they may “neglect” the salvation of their souls in this life (Hebrews 2:3), and yet somehow they believe that in the world-to-come pardon will be bestowed.
Our Mormon friends teach the dogma of “baptism for the dead,” based upon their misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 15:29. Roman Catholics continue to insist that souls languishing for their sins in that mythical, after-death “purgatory” will be released eventually to enter the realm of glory. Charles T. Russell, founder of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” argued that salvation is not “confined to the present life.”
Eastern mysticism alleges that through various stages of “reincarnation” people will have the opportunity of living earthly lives all over again with various avenues of development. Human beings have a strong resistance to the idea that decisions to serve God must be made in this life, and not in some future existence. They simply refuse to believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27) — not some new opportunity for redemption.
In his parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus unquestionably taught that once those virgins “slept” (a figure for the death of the body) there was no further opportunity for preparation (Matthew 25:1ff). When a person’s eyes close in death, he has crossed his “Rubicon.”
The foregoing illustrations are but a sampling of those crucial life-decisions that one will be called upon to make. Decisions so impacting that they scarcely can be reversed (or likely ever will be); in other situations, they are impossible to negate. Choices are so important in life, and how tragically neglectful we are on occasion in not teaching our youth of the gravity of these matters. Some foolish decisions cannot be washed away with an ocean of tears.
Scripture references: 1 John 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 5; Ezekiel 16:38; Matthew 19:9; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 22:16; Mark 3:29; Hebrews 6:4-6; Acts 4:12; Mark 16:14; Romans 11:7, 25; John 12:37-40; Ephesians 4:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:2; Romans 14:23; Proverbs 4:23; Hebrews 4:7; Hebrews 2:3; 1 Corinthians 15:29; Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 25:1